Wine gods: from Dionysus to Bacchus, divine stories of drunkenness
Do you know the story of all wine gods?
By Dionysus or Bacchus am I named Hereafter be,
The god of grape harvest, worship, ecstasy,
The twelfth Olympian who brings on a frenzy,
Mingling the music of aulos ending stress and worry
Picture above: Bacchus, oil on canvas by Caravaggio, c. 1596
Ever since Man discovered the joys of fermentation, Man has worshipped gods of wine, revelry and drunkenness. Due to the effect of wine on the consciousness and the move to a different (higher) state it has always been considered a spiritual process although I’m not sure this would be the case if Wetherspoons had opened bars in the ancient world.
If we had a top ten of wine gods, Dionysus would be number one. He was the son of Zeus and the Greek god of wine, vegetation, festivity, pleasure and wild frenzy. I’m sure he had an impressive business card for such a job title. He learned to cultivate grapes and became the first to turn grapes into wine. He then wandered across Asia teaching mortals the secrets of winemaking. He was also known as ‘The Liberator’ because his wine, music and frenzied dance freed his followers from self-consciousness and the restraints of society.
Silenus was a companion and tutor of Dionysus, considered a minor god of drunkenness and winemaking. There is a statue of Silenus in the Vatican Museum holding a bunch of grapes and a cup of wine. He was described as the oldest, wisest and most drunken of the followers of Dionysus. Another follower of Dionysus and companion of Silenus is Methe who is known as the nymph of drunkenness.
Bacchus god…and wine
As Roman gods mirrored those of Ancient Greece, here Dionysus was known as Bacchus god of wine. The mythical stories are identical. His human mother was burned when she saw Jupiter (Zeus) in divine form. The infant roman god of wine, Bacchus (Dionysus) was sewn to the thigh of Jupiter until his birth. Again, Bacchus then travelled as far as India teaching mortal’s how to make wine.
Interestingly, the name Bacchus is the name given to a variety of grape first created in Germany in 1933 and now very common in the UK with a growing reputation – known in the industry as the ‘English Sauvignon blanc‘. Hopefully you have already tasted the delicious Bacchus made by Stanlake Park?
In Hindu culture, the goddess of wine was called Varuni (also known as Varunani). She emerged from the ocean when it was churned by the gods. It is also the name of wineries located in Australia and Hyderabad.
Finally, whilst Vikings did drink some wine, they mainly drank beer and mead, hence the nearest equivalent to the above is Aegir who is actually the Norse god of beer.
When researching wine gods, I think the 19th century American writer Ambrose Bierce probably tells us how it really is with his statement :
Bacchus, a convenient deity invented by the ancients as an excuse for getting drunk.